PUBLIC SECT0R: Hackney hunts for PR chief to drive 'realistic' comms

The London Borough of Hackney has launched a hunt for its first permanent communications chief in two years.

Widely seen as one of the most difficult roles in local government PR, the head of comms is tasked with rebuilding a reputation battered by years of negative publicity.

The debt-ridden council is currently under close scrutiny by the Government, under recently created powers to direct poorly performing councils on how to run services.

Also, the education authority - once dubbed the worst in England by former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead - is now being run by the independent Hackney Education Trust.

The top PR role, vacant since January 2000 when Marina Pirotta left to join the London Borough of Brent, has been resurrected as part of a Government-ordered management restructure.

This restructure has also meant that the entire 'third tier' of management, which includes the head of communications role, has to reapply for their jobs.

This is the second attempt to appoint a permanent head of comms. A recruitment process last year failed.

The council is keen that the permanent comms chief avoids previous mistakes in strategy.

According to Kat Myers, acting head of comms, previous strategies focused on 'talking up' council initiatives in a 'fanfare' of publicity which only succeeding in 'setting the council up for a fall.'

Since last year the strategy has been to advocate 'more realistic' PR efforts. 'This is not Eden and we have no intention of telling people it is. What we are saying is bear with us, things are getting better - it will take time, ' said Myers.

The nine-strong comms team is part of a newly expanded policy and comms department, which now also includes customer services and information communications technology. This is headed by assistant CEO Tal Michael, who reports to CEO Max Caller.

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